Third Grade

Ahh, third grade. Third grade was unique because we moved from a large house on the lake in the suburbs, into a small, urban house about four minutes from Uptown (which is what Charlotte calls downtown). It was an amazing experience, living close enough to walk, or catch the train into the city whenever we wanted to, and we did that a lot. Jackson got involved in the Children’s Theater in Charlotte, and met new friends and had plenty of new experiences.

The first half of Third Grade was spent in Mrs. Fay’s class, another one of those “I hope he gets Mrs. Fay next year, ahem, cough, cough” instances, that worked. Again, I think it was because she got most of the higher-thinking kids, but still, we were excited. We knew, early on we might not make it through the year there, and we started to look at alternatives for school.

We knew we wanted to live in Charlotte, as close to Uptown as possible, but we also knew that some of the schools in that area were not great. I researched and researched, trying to find the best fit for him. We weren’t scared of Title One, or anything like that, but by this time Jackson was starting to show a lot of promise in STEM and we knew we wanted him to follow that track, which led us to Mallard Creek STEM Academy.

The great thing about Mallard Creek STEM was that you didn’t need to live in a certain neighborhood to go there. You didn’t even need to live in the Charlotte city limits. We had friends that went to school there that lived in several of the small, suburban towns around the city. And we got lucky to snag the spot of a kid who left mid-year. The stars aligned, you might say, and while we started Third Grade at St. James, we said goodbye on the last day of the semester and moved on to the next school, the next phase of our lives, and while we cherish the memories at the first school, the next one offered us even more fun and excitement. Here are some pics of the beginning of Third Grade. The last ones are of the pillow case his class made him and presented to him the day he left. Which of course he still has!

If I’m being honest when I saw that Jackson wrote, “I have a big house” on his “Things about Jackson” paper, I knew it was time to leave. I didn’t want my kid thinking that a person’s “goodness” or “worthiness” depends on how big your house is, and I saw some of the other kids “About Me” and this was something that several of the middle-class, white kids wrote. Hey, you live, you learn.

The two coolest things about Mallard Creek STEM, in Jackson’s opinion, was the fact that he FINALLY got to wear a uniform. Seriously, he had been asking to go to a school where uniforms were required since he knew that was a thing, I think in first grade. The other cool thing was that it was two stories, a brand-new building, with a brand-new ELEVATOR! I assumed him he would not be allowed to use the elevator, then around his third week of school he fell on the playground and sprained his damn ankle! Guess who got crutches AND access to the elevator?! Geez.

Anyway, the second half of third grade started at Mallard Creek STEM Academy, which was just off I-485 in a Charlotte. Jackson went from being a bus rider, to sitting in morning traffic with me. He enjoyed the ride in though, and it always gave us more time to catch up before and after school. He was placed into a class that just had a child move, and so he filled a spot already there. The transition seemed seamless, at first, though every once in a while he would cry and say he missed St. James. That is when we learned the busier the better for him, and when the first snow hit our Charlotte house, suddenly there were kids knocking on our door to see if Jackson could play, and well, that was it. There were about five kids on our block, and sooner rather than later he forgot all about our “big house” with the pool near St. James.

Kids are resilient. That is what we learned. And we were glad to learn that, because unbeknownst to us at this time, things were cooking in Jerimiah’s office, and he was about to be faced with a choice: Either stay with the company and move, or find a new job. And well, you know what we picked. But before we left for Georgia, we spent 13 glorious months in our tiny (1200 sq. feet) city house in Villa Heights. Where we met amazing people, had so much fun, roamed the city day and night, and ate at the best places, saw the best shows, and truly dug our heels into city-living. Something that was surprisingly fun and easy for all three of us.

Here are some pics from the second half of third grade, in Ms. Achee’s class at Mallard Creek STEM, as well as Jackson involved with the school’s production of “The Wiz Jr.” What an amazing experience that was, and one we never would have had if we hadn’t taken a chance!

Thanks for reading!

M.

He found a little blonde girl to impress, day one. And if you’ll notice here, he isn’t wearing his glasses (and he has his boot on his ankle) because she said, “I bet you’d be cute without your glasses on.” (Eye roll)

Jackson's First Trip to NYC

While I was writing my “The Breaking of Spring” blog post the other day I started to think about some of the trips we have taken during spring break in the past, and I remembered that I wanted to share about Jackson’s first time in the Big Apple. We love NYC, and are heartbroken about what they are going through right now. I don’t have words for the pain they must be feeling. And it feels upsetting to suggest “They will be okay, they always are.” Of course I know this, but it’s a sad and scary time for many New Yorkers, and for people who love New York. So I’ll instead say, we are thinking of you.

Jackson’s first time visiting NYC was not during spring break, it was the middle of February. We decided on the end of February because we because had that long break in school wherein he would only miss like one school day for the long weekend we took. It also lined up with some time that Jackson’s grandma had and was able to meet us there for the weekend. It seemed great, until the moment we got to the airport in Charlotte to leave for NYC. We were also hoping the weather had cleared enough in NYC.

Remember how we said we were hoping the weather had cleared. Well it had, in Charlotte. In NYC however, the day we were set to fly out, NYC got hit with one last snowstorm. As we were walking through security we saw the screens at American start blinking with “Cancelled” flights to NYC and the surrounding areas. It seemed that they would finish the “day flights” out, but that was it. We were lucky in that we were on one of those “day flights.” I think our plane was supposed to leave around 2:00 pm. We left Charlotte at 7:00 pm, arriving at NYC’s La Guardia around 10:00 pm. Our plane, upon landing, promptly slid off the runway into a snow bank. This was Jackson’s first trip to NYC, yes, but it was also his first flight, and he 100% though his plane sliding into a snowbank was bitchin’. “Wow, cool!” he said, as Jerimiah and I looked at each other, feeling the wheels of the plane spinning out from under us. “That’s not supposed to happen,” we told Jackson, as I grabbed my son and husband’s hands in nervous energy, and he eagerly watched the small truck tow our giant plane into the terminal. “I’m glad it did!” he said with enthusiasm. Le sigh.

Baby’s first airport security line. (He had a passport because by this point he had been on a cruise to Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and St. Maarten on the spring break before, but this was his first time flying.)

Here’s a fun story I forgot to mention. During the five or so hours we spent at the Charlotte Airport waiting for our plane to depart, all the bathroom in our concourse went down. Some sewage problem. We were in Concourse A and the nearest working restrooms were in Concourse C, which means while I battled the “nervous poops” as my husband likes to call them, I had to walk, nay run, to Concourse C and wait in a long-ass line each time. Super fun. Here is a pic Jackson eating pizza for dinner at the Charlotte Airport, gettin ready for NYC pizza, while our departure time kept getting bumped back and back and back, and I started running low on Xanax and clean underwear.

Eventually our plane did leave, as I said, and the flight was fine until the snowbank incident. But American apologized a bunch and then stopped all of their flights into La Guardia for a few more hours. Looks like we skidded in right before, pun intended.

First time on a plane, with Violet.
Jackson took this pic out of his window as we were landing.
Getting towed in from snowbank.

Because we do NYC the best way (read: cheapest) we had to then take a train through Queens, where we had to catch the subway to our hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Jackson did the most Jackson thing at this point, his first time in La Guardia, his first time in NYC, his first time for everything, he grabs his suitcase, says, “Follow me” and then just starts walking toward a bus parked outside. We were like, “What the hell man?!” Turned out it was the right bus, but that was a total fluke. Had to be. Right?

Standing up by the bus driver in Queens, probably telling him where to go… We’ve always said he’s a natural New Yorker, not sure why though.

So there we are, an hour later, schlepping our bags toward the Four Points in the center of Hell’s Kitchen, in a snowstorm, in 20 degree NYC weather, and Jackson was all, “This is FANTASTIC!” That’s when we knew he was our kid. Like, for sure. He’s always up for an adventure this one! I, was of course, cold as shit and just wanted to get to our warm hotel room. Jerimiah was worried about us walking NYC late at night with our suitcases, and Jackson was 100% taking in the sites, jumping on snowbanks, and being an all around nine-year-old. It was sorta great. Then we finally go to our hotel and all quickly passed out. End scene (for the first night).

Waiting to load up in the bus at the airport right after we landed. We were so tired already!
Dog-ass tired.

Jerimiah’s mom was traveling from Kansas City to meet us and she was supposed to be there the same night, but her flight had been cancelled somewhere along the time our plane slid into a snowbank, so she wasn’t able to make it to the city until the next evening, sometime around midnight. Which means we had an unexpected day in NYC without G-Ma, that we needed to fill with things we didn’t think she’d mind missing out on, but that still kept Jackson busy. First stop, yeah, Ghostbuster’s firehouse.

This was after bagel and lox, of course, and before we headed to the Firetruck Museum (to stay on topic for sure) and walking. So much walking, in the cold, cold, cold of a NYC snow. There were some things Jackson just had to see, like NYPD Precinct #1 and lots of different NYPD vehicles.

There was his first subway ride he would remember (the night before had become a blur):

Jerimiah looking like quite the tourist with the camera strapped on him.

And of course one of these bad boys:

Pure amazement.

We also stopped by the Public Library that day (something pretty much only I wanted to see, but they gladly tagged along), and ended the day eating Waffle Dogs in Hell’s Kitchen, before Jackson promptly passed the fuck out from exhaustion at 10 pm, and Jerimiah walked from our hotel in the blistering cold to meet his mom at Penn Station.

Jerimiah sent me this picture a little after midnight to tell me all was well and he and his mom were headed back to the hotel. Grandma had finally landed, the real fun could begin!

The next few days were a blur of fun and excitement, even in the rain and blistering cold, as most of our vacations are. We did so much, and saw so much, that I forgot about most of it until I was going through the old pictures. Here, have a gander…

Breakfast.
Dinner in Little Italy!
Midnight snacks!

Oh, you know what, those are all food pics! Haha, sorry, we did eat a lot of great food, look:

Cheesecake!
Noodles!
Tick Tock Diner at The New Yorker!

Okay, okay, I’ll stop with the food. We spent one whole day in Brooklyn, where we saw the cool buildings and sites, and visited the Transportation Museum, which was obviously Jackson’s favorite and he wants to go back every time we go to NYC, and if I were to go ask him right now if he’d rather go to Disney tomorrow or the Transportation Museum in Brooklyn, he’d vote for the Transportation Museum. For real.

The Transportation Museum was actually really cool, and we all had a great time. Afterward, we walked and took the subway to a couple of other cool places, like Ground Zero, where we had a tough talk with Jackson, and then over to Little Italy (where we ate again) and Chinatown. On the way we stopped off at Wall Street and took some pics with the Bull, and also had even more tough talks with Jackson about capitalism and what not.

The next day was just as crazy, with stops at The Natural History Museum, a ferry ride to Staten Island, and a tour bus around the city to see the sites. We walked to Grand Central Station that night for a snack (Magnolia Cupcakes), then of course we ended at Times Square.

As you can see, we refused to stay inside the ferry, even though it was cold. We wanted to see the sights! Always see the sights! We ended that night walking back to our hotel, a little frozen to the core, but happy, oh so happy! And looking forward to our last night in NYC the next day!

The next day we slept in. No one set an alarm and we were tired, so it was 11:00 am before we were up and at ’em. We don’t usually like to sleep in on vacation, so much to see, but it occasionally happens. This was a more relaxing day, still packed full of sights like Central Park, Washington Square, and the New York City History Museum, but the best part of that day was the trip to the top of the Empire State Building after the sun went down.

Those views!

It certainly was a whirlwind trip, like most of our trips are, and Jackson loved every second of it! He’s been back to NYC once since then, at the beginning of this year when we took a train from Rhode Island with friends to catch a show on Broadway! His first one! And to see the “Big Christmas Tree” before they took it down. It has been a lifelong goal of his, well, you know, since he saw Home Alone 2 a few years back. 🙂

So thanks for going on this trip down memory lane for the sake of posterity. I’ve been meaning to share pictures from this trip for a long time now, and I hope you enjoyed them.

And if you haven’t been to NYC, or it’s been years, I implore you to go (once it is safe of course). You won’t regret it! And hit me up for all the good tips!

M.

Lunch at the Starlight Diner
He could navigate the subway too, duh.
He really liked the Flatiron Building!
He for sure quoted Night at the Museum here!
Lighting candles with Grandma at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Buying his first comics at a comic book store in Midtown.
Radio City Music Hall and 30 Rock
Reading Room at the NYC Public Library
Grand Central Station
Lego Store!
We stayed on the 25th floor!

Run, Hide, Shelter, Fight

On April 19, 1999 my mom took me to the doctor because I woke up with ear pain that wasn’t going away. My doctor diagnosed me with an ear infection. He put me on a round of antibiotics and told me to stay home from school the next day. I was grateful because the pain was pretty intense and I tossed and turned all night. I woke up late the next morning. My mom was at work, a note stuck to the refrigerator said to call her if I needed anything. I was a junior in high school and I scoffed at the note: “Love, Mom”. Geez, mom, I’m fine, I can take care of myself. I made myself a bowl of cereal and set up shop on our old, comfy couch. I grabbed the remote control and flicked on the television. I’m not sure what was on tv. Maybe Price is Right, maybe one of those daytime talk shows, Sally Jessy Raphael or Geraldo, was he on the air then? I flipped the channel between bites of off-brand lucky charms, stopping occasionally at a funny commercial or to raise my hand to my throbbing ear, did I take my medicine already? At about 11:30 a.m. I stopped on Channel 9, KBMC, the local ABC affiliate in Kansas City, because something caught my attention. The scene showed a SWAT team, with automatic weapons drawn, running into a high school in Colorado.

The tragedy that unfolded in front of me that day on KMBC, was the catalyst for my high school to implement a safety protocol for an active shooter situation. I suspect Columbine, and the 15 students fatally wounded, was a catalyst for many schools across the country to implement comprehensive safety plans. To teach their children how to respond in an emergency situation. Bombs. Active shooters. School Emergency Response Plans. School Preparedness. They assessed by color. Code Black. Yellow. Red. Blue. Unsafe odor. Lockdown. Even for a Kansas kid, this was a lot. Kansas kids are used to drills. Leavenworth kids were able to tell the difference between a tornado siren and an inmate escape siren. We knew when the doors to school locked. We remembered when the doors to our school didn’t lock. We wrestled with our anxiety. Our constant barrage of drills, butting up against our desire to be cool and unbothered. The day after the Columbine High School shooting, though, things changed.

Our lunch room chat was spent on deciding with your best friends where you would meet if it ever happened to us. We all developed our own action plans, unbeknownst to each other. Those of us in the journalism room, we knew how to lift the handle of the dark room just right to jam it a little. We knew it would buy us time. We started getting cell phones. Little brick Nokias with emergency numbers and a game with a long snake. Active Shooter Drills became commonplace. We dreaded them. We stood in lines across the street from the school as the administrators would “sweep” the classrooms. We laughed and talked. Secretly assessing who we thought would be wearing long, black trench coats at our school. Our teachers told us to be quiet. They listened intently on their walkie talkies for the all-clear. We joked and made fun of their seriousness. But inside, we were a mess.

At home my mother would want to know what happened. “Where do they send you?” she’d ask, as she sloshed mashed potatoes onto my dinner plate. “How will you call me at work?” I’d shrug off her questions. “Stop worrying, nothing is going to happen at our school.” Still, she asked more. She started to leave detailed instructions on the fridge for me after school. Chores, directions to start dinner, anything to keep me home, keep me safe. “Call me if you need anything,” they would say. “Love, Mom.”

I stopped sleeping altogether. My anxiety crept up. Panic attacks started. Once I was in the back of our library. I was working on a research project. It was the big one. The last big project before school was out for summer. I was doing a close reading of a poem. I was engrossed in the book I had, sitting along the back wall, the stacks covering my view of either door. I heard a loud bang. My heart leapt into my throat. I froze. A moment later the librarian walked around, looking for each of us, asking if we were okay. She said someone slammed a door across the hall. We smiled, eased our backs into our chairs again Laughed a little. “We’re fine,” we said. “Totally good”. We were not fine. We were not totally good.

Years later I was sitting in a classroom at Missouri State University when my professor came into the room in a panic and told us to evacuate. She saw a man walking into the building with a gun. By this time I was a mother. I had a toddler at home. I froze again. Someone tapped me on the arm, “Let’s go!” We all ran down to the basement of the building. We grabbed our phones, waited for the all-call. The text to come in. The beeping and the signal: Run. Hide. Shelter. Fight. This was drilled into our head from the first day. That familiar feeling crept up into my throat just as my teacher walked down the stairs. The man was a plain-clothed officer, she explained. He forgot to notify anyone that he was coming into the building, and he hadn’t taken his gun off his hip. She felt bad for overreacting. She was clearly distraught. I hugged her. I didn’t mind her overreaction.

In grad school at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, we had routine preparedness thrown at us. Text messages would go out, followed by emails. Drills. Make sure the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) has your cell phone number. Make sure you are getting the Niner Alerts. I was diligent. Drills don’t bother me anymore. Overreacting doesn’t bother me. Be Niner Ready they would say. I was always Niner Ready.

And then the day came when all the practice, all the prep, all the drills became useful. Thankfully I graduated last May. Thankfully I was not on campus last Tuesday. Thankfully I didn’t need to get a Niner Alert. Or sit in a classroom, crouched against the wall, desks stacked up against the door, calling loved ones on the phone to check in, to say that I am okay. But there were people who did. And there were, as we soon learned, people who were not okay.

Kennedy, the building the shooting happened, is a lovely building. I led class discussions in that building when I was a Graduate Assistant for Prospect for Success. I remember that it was very high-tech, for being such an old building. The outside was deceiving. On my first week of grad school, I sat just outside Kennedy, out in the fresh air surrounding the Belk Tower, which was dismantled my second year, wondering how I was so lucky. How I had managed to get into a graduate program. Wondering how I had landed my cool new job at Colvard, the building just across from the Library. My library. Our library. Whose full, bright, stacks I occasionally roamed with no purpose other than to be in the library. To smell the familiar smell of books, and feel the collective tension of students with heads in folders, and in computer screens, and in their own thoughts. Kennedy is near the library. It is near the Career Center. It is right next to the Counseling Center.

I had friends on campus, and thankfully they are all okay. I had friends, professors, former classmates, and fellow Niners. I’ve checked in. I’ve seen their “Marked Safe” flags. I’ve cried for them. For my school, my community, the city that I miss. But, I can’t cry anymore. We can’t cry anymore.

You never think it will happen to people you love. You never think until it just does. And then when it does, all the pain, and all the fear, and all the anger builds up inside of you. How did this happen? Why did this happen? Will this happen again? Why is this okay? I was shocked and afraid on April 20, 1999 as I watched armored officers run into Columbine High School. I was afraid it could happen at my school, to my friends and to me. I was afraid, but I was hopeful. I just knew that this incident would be the one that would make my country work together to ensure that this never happened again. I just knew that our politicians, our representatives, our parents and teachers, the adults in charge, would protect us. Would work together to ensure that every child was safe while they were at school. Yet here we are. Twenty years later and mass shootings at schools and universities have become so commonplace that we don’t even blink an eye. We shake our head and say, “Heaven’s sake” or “Christ, it happened again,” while we make dinner, and help our kids with homework, and turn the channel to a comedy. We send thoughts and prayers. We make memes. We make hashtags.

Honestly, very honestly, I was angry the first time I saw the image on the top of this post. I was very angry. How can they sum up what just happened, hours before, into a picture. It felt too soon. It felt wrong. It felt like it was already made, just sitting there on someone’s hard drive, waiting to have the newest school’s tragedy stamped on it. Yes, I thought, Charlotte is strong. Yes, UNCC will come together and they will mourn and remember. Yes, my school, my community, my people will do the right thing. But what about everyone else?

I don’t want to get too political here. And all I can say is what a million angry mothers and fathers, and teachers and officers have said. We have to do better. And in order to do better we have to make major, sweeping changes to our guns laws, to mental health care, to insurance, to the angry in the community, to how we treat and respond to the bullied, the marginalized, those in poverty, those misunderstood. We have to revamp the systems. The public school system. The higher education system. The welfare system. The foster care system. And I know that is a lot, and I know it makes people afraid because it seems like it can’t be done. But it can, with small steps. It starts in our homes. In our backyards. In our communities. It starts with the way we treat each other every single day. Who we vote into office. Who we allow to represent us. It starts with boots on the ground.

Yesterday another gun attack happened, in another Colorado school. And today, like all the other days after a tragedy like this, we are learning of those killed and wounded. Learning about how they had to run, hide, shelter, and fight. These are children. Children. Children whose parents could not protect them. Whose teachers and administrators and classmates could not protect them. Who may have thought they didn’t need protecting from anything. I can’t stop thinking about the parents. About the mom of the boy, Kendrick Castillo, who tried to stop the gunman. I can’t stop saying his name. Wondering what his mother is going through. What about Riley Howell’s mom? What about Reed Parlier’s mom? They won’t leave their children notes on the refrigerator ever again. No more reminders of appointments, no more directions to bake the lasagna in the oven, no more “Love, Mom”.

I’m not sure what my plans are from here on out. But I have a 10-year-old son, and middle school is fast approaching and I am terrified, y’all. I have been, since April 20, 1999, and you should be too, and together we should work toward a solution. Together we should protect our children, at all costs.

M.

Dear Charlotte

It has taken me a long time to write this. Months, actually. Months of pacing my floorboards well into the night. Months of looking out my window for a sign, anything to come crashing down on me, begging me to stay for a few more weeks, a few more months. Fight more. Make this home. But nothing ever came. It isn’t surprising that it took me so long. It takes me a long time to get anything done. I used to be ashamed of that fact, but since I’ve known you, I’ve learned to appreciate this about myself. It’s not laziness. It’s not lack of motivation. It’s the opposite. It’s because when I invest in something, in someone, I invest my whole damn heart. And when you invest your whole damn heart, well, it takes time. You can’t leave on a whim. You can’t walk away without looking back three or four times. It’s a process. A lengthy, tumultuous process.

It seems silly, contrite, even dramatic, but Christ, I’m going to miss you, Charlotte. I’ve never left anywhere or anyone without wanting to. And even then, it is harder than it seems. When I left Leavenworth, Kansas many moons ago, I did so with a sadness that took me by surprise. It shouldn’t have. It’s true I had been working on my exit for 20 years, but still, I was totally and completely oblivious to what leaving actually meant. Through the entire process, though, I knew I was making the right decision. I knew this is what I had to do in order to launch. In order to learn and grow. So I pushed the sadness down, deep down, covering it with southern fried chicken and Arkansas BBQ.

Ten years later I left Southern Missouri. Again, I left because I knew I needed to. I knew it was the next right step for me, for us. I had a family by then. A husband eager for the adventure I had spent years cultivating in his mind. A five-year-old, on the cusp of kindergarten, a honestness inside him so profound that he didn’t once cry for his home, the only place he had ever known. Because he, like his mommy, craved new experiences, open roads, fun, and light, and merriment. In what seemed like an instant, we packed up a U-Haul, and we drove 1,000 miles in the stifling summer heat along I-40, eastbound. Then we took a right hand turn, and we found you.

Charlotte, my dear, I write this in love, honor, and humility, for I know you deserve more than what my words are capable of. Still, I refuse to carry the burden of forgetting to thank you for what you’ve meant to me these last five years. You were the city, after all, that I longed for. The city whose streets morphed me into the most honest version of myself. The bravest Missy anyone has ever seen.

Charlotte, it didn’t take long to learn how to navigate your patchy pavement, your potholes, and your politics. You wear your heart on your sleeve, waiting, hoping to be opened up by all of those who are willing. You taught me what it meant to be an outsider, to be hoping for acceptance. You taught this midwestern transplant about real, down home, southern hospitality. You taught me about peach cobbler and Cheerwine. You taught me that it is okay to not fit in. Then you taught me how to be accepted. You helped me shrug off the feeling that I was an imposter. A lost girl, tangled up in a city that I didn’t think wanted me, that I didn’t know I wanted.

Charlotte, you allowed me to truly let myself feel like I was a part of something. Which in turn allowed me to give freely of myself. To look past the trepidation of going out into the community, to the places I thought I feared, with the people I thought I feared. You taught me how to take their hands. To give what I had to give. You taught me how to receive what I didn’t know I needed. What I didn’t think I was worthy of. Charlotte, you taught me how to trust people again. You will forever be the place that taught me about the good and the bad of life. To understand those unlike me. To find common ground. You taught me about gentrification, all the horrible, ugly, heavy parts of it. About gratitude. About community. About moving forward together with people who are not like you, but also so very much like you.

Charlotte, I am not ashamed to say that I love you, your faults and all. Some don’t see your beauty. I’ve heard what they say about you. I’ve heard their true fear and ignorance of you. I’ve heard the complaints of your history, and your fast-paced progress. I’ve heard stories of your people, your streets, supposedly littered with graffiti and violence. But that’s not been my experience. Those aren’t the people who really know you, my dear. Those are the people who think they know you. The people too afraid, too out of touch, to get to the bottom of your heart. Too afraid to let their lives get knotted up in your streets and avenues, your museums, your schools, your churches, your neighborhoods, and your people. There isn’t an ounce of aggressiveness in you, Charlotte. There is only love and light, washed with an unmistakable sadness of underserved, underrepresented, undervalued people, trying to work together in the rapid, forward progression that has taken hold. There are people getting lost in the shuffle, Charlotte, but there are also people reaching down and lifting others up.

There are people at your schools who promote life-long learning. There are professors, and instructors, and counselors. There are people at Queens University, at UNC Charlotte. There are people at Idelwild Elementary School, and Thomasboro Academy, and Shamrock Gardens. There are people at CPCC, and The Arts Institute. There are beautiful, bright construction-paper fish lining the windows of Dilworth Elementary and silver robots at Mallard Creek STEM. There are flower beds at Paw Creek and an amazingly fun playground at Villa Heights. There are free lunches, and school picnics. Summer programs and school choirs. There are decorated lockers and national championship sports teams. There are teachers, principals, and bus drivers, that each morning, look into the eyes of their children, and tell them they are welcome. They are loved. And it makes all the difference, Charlotte. Your people make all the difference.

Charlotte, your parks are lovely. Your parks and your nature preserves and your gardens. Autumns at McDowell, down the luminary-lined roads in a wagon, make people feel like you are no longer in a bustling, urban city. Your dog park at Reedy Creek, its mixture of dust, and green, and friendly barking, allows for conversation and friendship, four-legged and two. From the geese who flank the pond at UNC Charlotte, backing up traffic on the roundabout, to the geese who nibble your pretzels at Freedom Park, your wildlife, your serenity, your escapes from the busy city life have calmed many. The excitement of an afternoon walk through Romare Bearden, the children in the fountains, ringing the bells, holding foot races across the wide open lawn, reminds me of my own languid summer days as a child. We’d glide over the beautiful lawn, take in an afternoon of baseball, cheering madly for the Knights, as they’d rally against Durham in the 10th inning. Then head over to Green’s for a chili-cheese dog.

And oh, the food! Charlotte, you are a food-lover’s paradise. From Amelie’s in NoDa to Pike’s in South End, there is a little something for everyone. Lunch at 300 East, dinner at Midwood Smokehouse (the only place this midwesterner can find good, down home, sticky, sweet sauce). Dutch Babies at The Original Pancake House and brunch at Bistro La Bon. Maybe a quick bite off the Pizza Peel buffet, or an order to go from Price’s Chicken Coop or Brooke’s Sandwich House. International House of Prayer offers up homemade specialties during the day, and there is always Midnight Diner, or Pinky’s, or South 21 if you just need good, greasy fries to soothe your soul.

Charlotte, I will miss you festivals and your beer. Your spontaneous parties at OMB and your giant Jenga game at Camp North End. Your Sunday afternoon dates with my 10-year-old at Abari’s Game Bar, where we first introduced him to a Super NES, and your fun hosting of Open Streets, where we were able to see a part of the city that we never had before via one of your many greenways. I will miss walks with my dog into Uptown, though the heavily guarded training fields of the Panthers, onto Trade Street and onward. I will miss the smiling faces at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library – Plaza Midwood branch, and at ImaginOn, where the entire staff seems only there to make my life easier, by helping my son find the Hank the Cowdog series, and tie his shoe, and teach him about projection in his theater class. I will miss your Thanksgiving Day parade, Charlotte, and your street vendors. I will miss the small, but mighty aquarium at Discovery Place. I will miss your weird collection of art and people on Tryon in Uptown, just after the sun has set, but before the bars open. I will miss you “Jesus Saves” guy. I will miss you Phoenix statue, and my desire to take a picture of every visitor to the city in front of it.

Charlotte, you came into my life at a turning point. You saw me through the early days of my son starting kindergarten. You helped me stay busy when my days were more quiet than I liked. You brought me into the fold of UNC Charlotte. You got me through three very long years of grad school, where my brain, my faith in myself, and my commitment were all tested beyond belief. You met me on the other side with the loveliest of new friends and mentors, all working their magic to put that spark back into my life, my writing, and my faith in good people. Kind people, smart, loving people.

Geez, the friends, Charlotte. The friends you gave me. The fun, amazing, lifelong friends, who always seemed to pop up at the perfect time. Some we have lost, more we have gained, but all of them, at some point in the last five years, have looked at me and smiled, a mutual understanding that our time spent together was not in vain. It was not lost on us. On who we are, or how we came to know each other. Or what we will always be, when it’s all said and done, and many, many miles separate us. I’m indebted to you for these lovely people, Charlotte. And much, much more.

Joan Didion once wrote, “A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.” I don’t know if this is what I have done here, Charlotte, but I have certainly tried, and I will certainly continue to try, for as long as you are present in my memory, to claim you, to obsess over you, year after year, month after month, as I drag my feet to say goodbye to the city I have come to love. The city that I have come to call home.

M.

Knights game, April 2018
ImaginOn to see Mary Poppins!
Walk in our neighborhood, Villa Heights
Summer Jam at the Whitewater Center with friends, September 2018
The Green on Tryon

Ren Fest!
Graduation, May 2018
Chinese Lantern Festival at the Botanical Gardens
Building Little Libraries at Free Range Brewing
Scooting at First Ward Park
Hopping on the Blue Line to cruise into Uptown
Poster making before a Hornets game
Halloween in the hood, standing by one of the Little Libraries we helped build!
Building at Discovery Place
Spring soccer with Charlotte YMCA
Dessert in NoDa!
Lunch in South End! #HotTaco
Morning walk to the train station
“Pillows” on The Green
After dinner in Uptown and an evening play session at the ropes of First Ward
Go Panthers!

View from our neighborhood park #TheSunsets